Tuesday, 28 July 2015

please vote for my story!

I was excited to learn that my short story, Being Sophie, was shortlisted for this month's KISHBOO magazine!

KISHBOO is a monthly magazine, available for free online, or for 99p as a Kindle download. The way it works is that readers can vote for their favourite shortlisted story, and the story with the most votes wins £50!

So you know what's coming next - I'd most appreciate it if you could visit KISHBOO and vote for my story! Of course I would love it if you read it first, as well as the other stories. And if you decide youl like one of the other stories better, please vote for me anyway because I want to win, by all means vote for them instead (in the interests of fairness!). I've read the other entries and there are some good stories there so I'm certainly not expecting to walk this!

Thank you :)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

things i'm loving right now

Knitting. I'm knitting a sea-inspired baby blanket just now - I'd love the opportunity to actually sit but the sea and work on it but summer isn't being too kind to us at the moment so I'm having to be content with knitting it inside.

Vintage cup and saucer. I've been searching for a lovely cup and saucer for ages, and I finally found one in a antique shop in Ullapool! Tea tastes so much better out of a china cup, plus it makes me feel all old-fashioned and pretentious! (Also, now that I have one, I'm seeing them in charity shops everywhere, yet I could never find one before. What's with that??)

Car boot sale/charity shop finds. As well as my cup and saucer, there's been loads of yarn, some t shirts and books, plus a lovely owl pot stand and a pair of kitsch cats that I think are supposed to be egg cups?

Herbs. My outdoor mint, rosemary and thyme have flourished this year - there's loads! The basil, chives and parsley indoors haven't done so well but we don't talk about that...

The beach. I go on about the sea and the beach a lot - it's somewhere that never fails to cheer me up. I've spent a lot of time wandering along the coast and letting the fresh air clear my head. There's nowhere I'd rather be, regardless of the weather.

Reiki. Read about my first degree Reiki training here. I love Reiki; I've been doing a self-treatment every day which is helping energise me and keep things in perspective. I've also had the opportunity to do treatments on other people, which has been enjoyable and beneficial for both them and me. I love learning more about this treatment, and I love the feel of the energy running through my hands.

Birds. Like the sea, they're one of the small things in life that make me happy - be it the swallows that sit on the wire outside my office window, the tiny flock of four goldfinches I saw on an early morning walk, or the baby seagull cheeping from my neighbour's porch roof.

Cows. My spring obsession with lambs has eased until next year, so my new favourite farm animal is the cow! Specifically the stirks - no longer calves but not quite fully grown cows. I love their gentle, inquisitive nature and how they sometimes let me stroke their noses when I can get close enough to the fence!

Fizzy water. I always thought I hated fizzy water. But a few weeks back, I was really thirsty after a long walk. I felt like something fizzy but I try to avoid juice, and for some reason a chilled bottle of fizzy water appealed, so I bought one. I've pretty much been drinking it ever since.

What's good in your life right now?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

10 things i do every day (or try to do...)

There's a misconception that putting ourselves first is selfish,but if we don't look after ourselves we've no hope of being much use to anyone else. If we abandon ourselves we become resentful, angry, jealous and depressed. Or at least, I do! We'd never treat someone we love like this, so why the hell do we do it to ourselves?

I function better in the world when I feel well and organised, which means I'm a better partner, employee, friend and family member. I suspect most of us are the same, so its in everyone's interests that we make sure we're as good as we can be.

There are certain things I try to do every day to make sure I'm at my best. Now, I'm only human, plus life is life and sometimes other things get in the way. So if I can at least manage to do each thing five days per week, that's good enough. They're mostly all habits now though, so its fair to say that some days I manage them all, and every day I manage at least half of them. They all make me feel better about myself and about life, and even if I accomplish nothing else in a day, I know I've done these, and that's enough.

Make my bed
Always my first task of the day. I blogged about why I always make my bed here.

Ideally for 20 minutes every morning, but if not I'll fit in 5, 10 or 20 minutes elsewhere in the day. I can't stress how much this helps me. Meditation isn't for everyone, but I recommend everyone gives it a go, just to see. I love it in the morning because it sets me up for the day. It calms my mind and body, it makes me more focused and creative, and more aware of the world around me. It increases my patience levels and I'm less inclined to forget stuff. If I skip a morning, I can feel it; I won't neccesarily have a 'bad' day but I feel a bit off-centre.

Get dressed
Many people lounge around in pyjamas all day at weekends (or even on weekdays, if they're lucky enough to work from home!). Nothing wrong with this, but I can't do it. I absolutely can't. I can't even eat breakfast in my pyjamas. I get up, exercise, meditate, then get dressed before I do anything else. Even if I'm ill/hungover, I'll try my damndest to get dressed at some point, even if its not until 7pm in the evening. The day doesn't feel right if I'm not dressed. I feel more productive and more ready for action, as it were.

Drink a glass of lemon and turmeric with hot water
The first thing that passes my lips most mornings. There's many alleged benefits to drinking lemon and hot water first thing in the morning, who know's if they're true but I feel healthy and virtuous, and its become such a habit that I really miss it if I don't have it (which is rare). Turmeric has many health benefits too, but I like the fact that its a natural anti-histamine - great for my never-ending battle with rhinnitis. I add a grind of black pepper too, to help with with turmeric absorption.

Write something
A blog post, free writing, the bones of a story, a section of my novel. I'm at my best as a writer if I write every day. If I don't, before I know it, I'm not writing at all, and then I suffer. If I write every day I stay in the habit, plus I improve. Although I love writing,  I still have to force myself to do it sometimes.

Do the dishes
I don't have a dishwasher because its not worth the while, and I don't mind doing them by hand. I love coming down to a clear, clean kitchen in the morning, and I'm always disappointed with myself if I skipped the dishes the night before. So now I do them straight after dinner, before I'm sidetracked with anything else. Not only that, I have a minimalist kitchen so I only have one or two of each item, and its a hassle if I'm trying to make something and the item I need is languishing by the sink.

Track what I spend
I wrote about how I live a thrifty, debt-free lifestyle here, and tracking what I spend is an important part of this lifestyle. I gather receipts daily and check my internet banking, then I enter the items onto my spreadsheet. Keeping track of spending means I stay in control of my finances, rather than the other way around. It means I live within my means and I know instantly whether I can afford something.

I'm not a naturally active, sporty person, but now I've found what works, I fit it in every day. Most mornings I do an exercise or yoga DVD, and very occasionally I'll go for a run (haven't done that this year, so I'm wondering if maybe I'm bored of that now...). I also try to go for a walk every evening. As long as I do some sort of physical exercise, I feel healthier, happier, motivated and creative.

Check tomorrow's meal plan
I absolutely have to meal plan, because deciding on meals as I go along stresses me out no end. I love knowing I don't have to think about what to have for breakfast, lunch or dinner because its all pre-planned. Perhaps not spontaneous but there's plenty other opportunities to be spontaneous in life, and this helps my days go smoothly. I check the following day's plan when I get home from work though, incase I need to buy anything or if there's something I need to defrost/cook/prepare. And then I relax in the knowledge of knowing that tomorrow's meal's are taken care of.

Show gratitude
Every night as soon as I get into bed, I write a list of 10 things that I'm grateful for that day. I had to do this as part of my mindfulness class, but I've made it a regular habit as its changed my outlook on life. When I know I have to find 10 things to be grateful for each day, I'm more inclined to notice and appreciate small things. Its also a nice positive note to end my day on, as well as a reminder, if I think I've had a bad day, that good things still happened.

What do you try to do every day for your own wellbeing?

Monday, 20 July 2015

What running on the beach in the morning has taught me about life

**Originally blogged last August. I haven't gone running since then, but the lesson learned still stands, and if I go an early morning walk, I sometimes see this woman, still doing her bit. Her actions inspired me to pick up any litter I see while out and about, something I should have been doing anyway - but better late than never**

I used to love an early morning run on the beach. Two years ago I lived a ten-minute (if that) drive away from a long, sandy and secluded rural beach which I would run on at least three times a week. I now live less than a minute from a small, much less rural sandy beach and until recently I hadn't run on it once.

Now, I just want to make something clear. I am not a fan of 'running'. I am a fan of 'running by the shore' or 'running on the beach'. Therefore I either run on the beach or I don't run at all. The reason I never took to running here is because I suspected the beach would be busier, given that its in the town, and its a smaller beach, I wouldn't have as much space to myself.

But one morning, after months of putting it off, I bit the bullet and I ran. It was amazing. The beach was vast, windy, open, cold, alive. And for most of the time I was by myself. As I did my second length I noticed a woman come down to the beach with a bucket. I said a breathless hello as I jogged past, trying to pretend I wasn't about to keel over due to having not run for over a year (especially seeing as I recognised her as a PE teacher from my High School days, now retired) but never took much note until I stopped farther along the beach and looked back. I could see her walking about, looking as if she was picking things up, but again I didn't take a huge amount of notice. I was too busy taking in the gentle swell of the tide as it eased further up the beach, and the seabirds pottering around on the shoreline.

A few days later, I found out via chance conversation that this woman comes down to the beach every morning and clears up all the litter from the day before, be it deposited by visitors or by the tide. How bloody awesome is that?!

It's really made me think. To be fair, the beach is a clean one, and its pretty much free from litter; now I know why. Also, I felt that morning that the beach was mine. But this has made me realise that at this time of the day, the beach is hers. Very much so. It's such a selfless thing to do. I don't know what motivates her but I'd love to find out, and I admire her for it. In this day and age life can be so devoid of purpose, yet it's small, quiet gestures like this that can mean the most - not to everyone else using the beach, but to her. Knowing that she's contributing to society every single day, in her own way.

I'm heavily involved in litter and environmental issues anyway, but this woman's actions have inspired me even further. I never drop litter myself but unless I'm on an organised pick, I tend to walk past any. But now, if I see an abandoned juice can or sandwich wrapper, I'll pick it up and put it in the nearest bin. And when I do so,  I think about this woman and offer her a silent thanks for giving a shit when many others don't. Through me, and any others who do the same, she's managing to keep the town clean without even being there. 

I'd love to be as inspirational as that some day. And one morning, when the beach is hers, I intend to tell her this.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

learning first degree reiki

Note - Reiki has nothing to do with crystals, its just a random choice of photo...

I did Reiki Level 1 training last weekend and the timing could not have been better. I've been up and down with recent events plus the looming new moon was making me edgy so it was great to spend a whole weekend learning a new skill and connecting to a higher energy.

I wasn't sure what to expect as I've never had a Reiki treatment myself. Turns out though, it's a simple treatment anyone can learn, but despite it's simplicity it's pretty powerful. The word 'Reiki' translates as 'universal life force,' which sums it up well. It's a special kind of healing energy that can only be channelled once you've been attuned to it, and you can only be attuned by someone who is already attuned. 

To treat someone, a practitioner channels Reiki into the patient using a series of set hand positions. Reiki is intelligent in that it flows where it's needed and can calm and heal on physical, spiritual and mental levels. Practitioner and patient often feel heat, coolness, tingling, or see colours and images, plus its very relaxing for the patient. It can be used alongside conventional medicine, and can be used on animals and children, also plants and trees. Infact anything can be charged with Reiki energy, even inanimate objects. I've been pretty much Reiki-ing everything that crosses my path. My home has never felt so positive!

Sceptical? Reserve judgement until you've tried it. It isn't connected to any religion and there's no requirement to believe in anything remotely spiritual. It's available to all. Practitioners don't charge for it - like air, it's free to all beings. What they do charge for, though, is their time, so if you book a treatment with a fully qualified practitioner, there will be a charge. As for me, I'm still practising so my time is free, because anyone willing to let me practice on them is doing me a favour in return!

It's easy to get attuned - just find a Reiki practitioner who can, and is willing, to attune you! Attunement is weird though, so be prepared to suspend disbelief for a couple of days. All sorts of strange things went through my head - kind of like that between waking and sleep stage when you have vivid dreams. Also, the practitioner will pick up images and vibes as they attune you, so its all very unusual.

It's been a journey of self-discovery, and I've noticed subtle differences in myself since becoming attuned - I'm calmer and more positive. Its hard to put into words - I just feel a bit different. I'm doing a self-treatment every day and have roped in volunteers to try full treatment on. During the weekend training, we tried Reiki on each other and it was an interesting experience; I was convinced one woman had her hands on my temples when she clearly didn't, and during a different treatment my lower right leg got cold, and the girl treating me could feel the cold radiating from it. Spooky!

I need to practice for six months, then I can complete Level 2 if I want to. At the moment I hope to go forward with this, but in the meantime I'm happy to Reiki the crap out of everything and anything I can.

Have you ever had a Reiki treatment? Did it work for you?

Saturday, 11 July 2015

a painfully honest post about life at the moment

Life is always a mix of good stuff and shit stuff. We need to make sure the shit stuff doesn't overwhelm the good stuff but at the same time its important to face the shit stuff and deal with it. 

So, good stuff right now. I've sold a story to a magazine, and my short story tutor loved my last assignment so much that she more or less demanded that I send it to a magazine, which I've now done. I've got my writing retreat to look forward to, plus I've got a couple of small trips planned for later in the year. I'm taking long walks most evenings and I'm trying my absolute best to look after myself. I've learned first degree Reiki and started yoga classes. My sheep friends disappeared (see photo above) but reappeared the next night, yay! (Although minus their fleeces)

Shit stuff right now? I'm going through a break-up that has been months in coming. It got to the point where we had become complacent but it had to come to a head because I was sick of my life being on hold. So he is moving out. I have mixed feelings; the last few months have been hard so there's a sense of relief. But equally I miss who he was. We've been through so much in the last 12 months (if you've followed my blog for a while, you'll know he had an op last year which knocked us both for six and more or less left him disabled). As much as there is relief, the gap he will leave in my life is currently raw and painful.

I'm not particularly sentimental. I've never been part of a couple that has 'our' song, or 'our' place etc, and I absolutely do not believe in soul mates. I do believe however, that the end of a relationship usually means we've learned all we can from each other and its time to move on. Nevertheless there will be more tears and plenty of moping around over the weeks to come. Of staring at the spaces where his stuff used to be and feeling a painful jolt whenever I realize the left side of the bed is empty. 

But I will be fine. He will be fine. Because life is ever-changing and we get over stuff like this and move on. I never expected to be single at 35. When he was ill, the thought of losing him in any way was inconceivable. But guess what, shit happens. There's good stuff going on too and I need to focus on that as much as anything else. The possibilities are endless.

I like to write honesty, and this is honesty. I don't want people to feel sorry for me, because we all have stuff going on and we all get through it. I want this to be a reminder that behind the computer screens we don't all live perfect lives. Bad stuff happens too, as much as we may want to gloss over it. Its there. Its real. Because we're all real.

How's your life at the moment? What's good and what's bad? 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Meal planning (or how I keep my cheese consumption under control)

image source
**Originally blogged in March 2014. I still do this though, which is impressive for someone who normally never sticks to things...**
I always assumed that folk who meal-plan were a bit boring. Who could be bothered with going to the hassle of knowing exactly what they're going to eat in advance? What if you didn't feel like eating what you'd planned? For years, the closest I came to meal-planning, was planning to have Pringles and dip for tea because I had nothing else in and couldn't be bothered shopping. But this attitude changed in 2013, when I went on to an elimination diet that involved cutting out dairy, gluten, yeast and sugar.

It was hell. I was constantly cranky and hungry, and dreaded shopping in a way I had never dreaded it before. Everything has either yeast, sugar, dairy or gluten in it, and trying to decide what to eat, there and then in the shop, was a nightmare. I had no option but to plan in advance to keep myself on the right track (and lessen the possibility of me bursting into tears and abandoning my half-full trolley in the middle of the gluten-free-but-has-all-sorts-of-other-crap-in-it aisle).

On the plus side, my rhinnitis was a lot better. Plus I was surprised at how much less stressed I felt when I knew exactly what I was eating each day. I pretty much had an idea from the start that my rhinnitis was worsened by dairy, and this has proven to be the case. Giving up dairy would help but there are other issues, so it wouldn't get rid of it altogether (dust can aggravate it, as can, bizarrely, my monthly cycle). And anyway, I can endure a chronic itch in my throat and ears as long as I get to eat cheese occasionally. And this is where meal planning has continued to be useful for me.

I try to only eat dairy at one meal per day, or at the very least only eat small volumes of it in each meal, and meal planning allows me to monitor this. Plus, our monthly food bill has reduced by nearly a quarter by planning what we eat. This is due to a number of reasons:

I use up stuff I already have in, rather than buy more

There are less mid-week trips to the supermarket for stuff I forgot to buy during our weekend shop, so less chance of me buying extra crap I don't need

I buy less takeaways and pre-packed sandwiches 

There's less waste; if I buy a certain type of veg or whatever, I incorporate it into various meals throughout the week so it gets used up
Some folk only plan evening meals, but to keep my dairy consumption under control, I plan breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast and lunch I have 10 basic meals that I plan in rotation, making small changes so I don't get bored (e.g. one lunch meal is homemade soup, so I make different soups each week). 

Dinner was the most complicated meal for me because there are so many choices out there, so many recipes. So, I've narrowed evening meals into seven different basic favourites which I work around each week. My seven are:
  1. Steak mince
  2. Chicken
  3. Pasta
  4. Prawn
  5. Fish
  6. Meat-free
  7. Other
So, steak mince night is usually lasagne, cottage pie, chilli, beefburgers or spaghetti bolognese. Prawn night is usually curry, prawn salad or enchiladas. I have a variety of choices for meat-free night and pasta night; pasta night is usually meat-free aswell, and more often than not is macaroni cheese, which is my favourite dinner ever. 'Other' night is often meat-free too although sometimes I'll make something with sausages for a change. So far, it hasn't got boring and I love the freedom of knowing that all the meals for the week are planned. Plus it keeps both my bank balance and my rhinnitis under control.

I do need to be organised though; some items need to be bought during the week as they won't keep otherwise (fresh fish for instance), plus I occasionally need to make my lunch the night before. It's not a hassle but I'm pretty forgetful so need to have Post-Its stuck on the kitchen wall to remind me.

Do you meal plan? If so, is it just your evening meals or all meals?